Spencer Bakich, an associate professor of international affairs at Sweet Briar College, will participate in a roundtable discussion at CIA headquarters on June 20. He will speak on his forthcoming book, “Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars,” and its implications for the U.S. government and intelligence community.
The roundtable is sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, which supports the director of national intelligence. According to its website, the council serves as a “bridge between the intelligence and policy communities, a source of deep substantive expertise on intelligence issues, and a facilitator of Intelligence Community collaboration and outreach.”
Bakich’s research for the book, slated for publication in March 2014, has particular relevance for policy makers today as they evaluate any U.S. response to the increasingly complex civil war in Syria.
“ ‘Success and Failure in Limited War’ demonstrates how the pattern of information flow in the national security bureaucracy directly affected the outcomes of significant foreign policy events of the past seven decades,” according to the University of Chicago Press.
The Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Iraq wars all began as limited engagements. Bakich explains why the U.S. succeeded in the Persian Gulf War, but was unable to both defeat its opponent and avoid escalation in Korea; why Chinese intervention in Vietnam was avoided, but communist forces in South Vietnam weren’t defeated; and why the U.S. achieved a quick and decisive victory over Iraqi forces only to see it squandered with the eruption of the Sunni-based insurgency.
The importance of information collection, analysis and sharing to national security is well understood, but making good strategic decisions depends on how information is managed and used, Bakich argues. Information institutions must allow leaders to understand the complex strategic environments in which they act, so they can effectively coordinate the military and diplomatic elements of limited war strategies.
This is certainly true in Syria, where so much is already in play, Bakich says.
“Ultimately, any intervention policy would have to contend with many dynamics —political, i.e., internal actors that animate the conflict; diplomatic, i.e., regional states that have a stake in the process and outcome of the conflict; and military, i.e., rebel, government, terrorist and other organizations’ military activities.
“The focus of my book is on the ability of countries to secure their military objectives while avoiding undesired escalation. The problem in Syria is that any intervention by the U.S. now would occur in the midst of a conflict that appears to be on the cusp of regional escalation — which makes it difficult for any American intervention strategy, no matter how limited in its objectives, to succeed.”